CHICAGO (REUTERS, AFP) - A campaign rally of United States presidential candidate Donald Trump scheduled for Friday night (March 11) in Chicago was called off as the crowd of thousands who gathered, including both supporters of the Republican front-runner and those who came to protest his candidacy, grew rowdy.
A Trump staff member took the stage nearly a half hour after the rally was slated to begin and told the crowd that the event would be postponed for safety reasons.
He did not say when or if it would be rescheduled. After the announcement was made, the crowd began to chant and cheer.
Scuffles broke out as signs were ripped from hands and police moved in to break up areas with the most serious conflicts.
"We dumped Trump! We dumped Trump!" could be heard inside the University of Chicago pavilion where the event was held.
"We want Trump! We want Trump!" was yelled by an opposing group.
In a statement, Mr Trump said that "for the safety of all of the tens of thousands of people that have gathered in and around the arena, tonight's rally will be postponed to another date".
CNN estimated there were between 8,500 to 10,000 people in the arena when tensions erupted into chaos.
News footage showed police wearing body armour escorting groups of people out of the building, as scuffles and angry confrontations broke out throughout the building between Trump supporters and protesters.
Chicago activists had spent the week leading up to the rally planning how to disrupt it.
Mr Trump has become a particularly polarising candidate in the current presidential campaign. He has both inspired impassioned supporters and ignited a backlash of angry dissent with his promise to build a wall along the US-Mexican border to keep out illegal immigrants and his call to temporarily ban the entry of Muslims into the country.
One group at Friday's event, Showing Up for Racial Justice, coordinated with minority student groups on local campuses, using group email chains and messaging so that protesters could stay in constant communication.
One of the organisers Nathaniel Lewis, 25, a master's degree student in public health at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said he was shocked they succeeded in shutting the rally down.
"I'm happy, I'm at peace because we came together as a collective," Mr Lewis told Reuters. "This is the last thing we expected to happen, it shows the power of unity."
Mr Trump, speaking to MSNBC by telephone shortly after the cancelled event, said he met law enforcement after arriving in Chicago.
Though he believed it would have been possible to move forward, he said he made the "wise decision" to postpone the rally to keep everyone safe.
Mr Trump brushed off questions from MSNBC's Chris Matthews about whether such widespread disruptions were to be expected given the increasingly aggressive tenor of recent campaign events.
Mr Trump said his supporters had planned for a peaceful rally and that it was derailed by the protesters.
"You can't even have a rally in a major city in this country anymore," Mr Trump said. "Up until this point we've had no problem."
Mr Trump told MSNBC he expected support for his candidacy would only increase. Earlier in the day, at a rally in St. Louis, Missouri, Mr Trump had been speaking for less than 10 minutes when protesters began interrupting him.
The disruptions continued over the next hour as Mr Trump urged security to "get them out".
"Can I be honest with you, it adds to the flavour, it's more exciting. Isn't this better than listening to a long boring speech?" Mr Trump said of the disruptions.
At some events, altercations have turned physical. In New Orleans last week, several protesters supporting the Black Lives Matter movement were dragged out as Mr Trump shouted "get them".
In Fayetteville, North Carolina, on Wednesday, protesters interrupted Mr Trump's speech more than 16 times. One was punched as he was led from the arena.
Mr Jedidiah Brown, 29, dashed onto the Chicago stage where Mr Trump was expected to speak Friday and tore the campaign sign from the podium before the police took him outside. He was not arrested.
"I was born and raised in Chicago so I felt it was my responsibility to let him know he's not welcome here," Mr Brown said. "The message Trump is spreading all over the country, it doesn't work here."
Outside, Ms Tess King, 25, a social sciences and law student, was carrying a sign that said "Chicago Rejects Trump".
Ms King had tried to get into the rally but the event was cancelled before she got in the door. "I feel incredibly happy that in our city we managed, through peaceful expression, to make this happen," Ms King told Reuters.
As the crowd began to trickle out, Mr Josh Glaspie, 28, smoked a cigarette on a sidewalk strewn with discarded signs.
Mr Glaspie, an Army veteran who is trying to open a restaurant in Chicago, said he supports Mr Trump. "Trump's not racist," he said. "These people don't even know why they're protesting."